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Buying guide for best DNA ancestry test kits

It's only natural to want to know where you come from, who your ancestors were, and what health risks or advantages you might have nestled in your genetic makeup. A DNA ancestry kit is an easy and pain-free way to get all of that information and more.

Go with a company that has a large database because it can provide more insight and detail in your report. Cheek swab tests are easier, but because of bacteria, a saliva test is the better way to go – if you can produce enough saliva, that is. Autosomal DNA tests examine both sides of your family tree and offer a broader picture of your genealogy.

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For the most comprehensive ancestry results, it helps to use DNA testing kits from more than one company.

What can a DNA ancestry test kit reveal?

  • Ethnicity: A DNA ancestry test kit can provide genetic ethnicity estimates based on your DNA. For example, it might reveal that your DNA can be traced to Native American heritage, Scotland, and/or Africa.

  • Unknown Relatives: Many DNA ancestry test kits can help you identify relatives that you may not know about through potential DNA matches with others who have taken the test. This makes it a particularly useful tool for adopted individuals who are trying to locate biological relatives.

  • Your Family Tree: In addition to helping you locate living relatives who you may not know about, most DNA ancestry test kits can help you build a complete family tree by providing a starting point for your genealogical research.

  • Health Information: Some DNA ancestry test kits provide health information in addition to ancestry clues. They can provide information about general wellness topics, such as whether you can metabolize lactose, as well as whether you’re at risk for a variety of genetic diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, and celiac diseases.  

Types of DNA tests

Y chromosome test

A Y chromosome DNA test is used to determine a man’s direct ancestry line from his father’s side. Because women lack a Y chromosome, they’re unable to take this type of DNA test.

Mitochondrial DNA test

A mitochondrial DNA test is used to determine your ancestry line from your mother’s side of the family utilizing DNA from mitochondria. Both men and women can take this type of DNA test.

Autosomal DNA test

An autosomal DNA test is the most complete option because it doesn’t just focus on a single ancestry line. Instead, it can trace the ancestry on both sides of your family. Men and women can take this type of DNA test.

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Did you know?
Most DNA ancestry testing companies provide your ethnicity results as a percentage to create a complete picture of your background.

DNA/ancestry test kit feature considerations

Sample type

To run an ancestry or genetic test, the maker of the kit requires you to provide some type of DNA sample. Some test kits use a cheek swab while others call for a saliva sample.

  • Cheek swab samples are usually the easiest to get – you simply rub a cotton swab against the inside of your cheek, put it in a protective tube, seal it, and ship it to the testing company.

  • For a saliva sample, you must spit into a collection tube until your saliva reaches just above the fill line. You must add a stabilization buffer to your sample within 30 minutes, and then you seal the tube to ship it to the testing company.

"Older individuals often have trouble with DNA tests that require saliva samples, so a kit that uses a cheek swab may be better for elderly relatives."

Waiting period

Doing a DNA ancestry test requires a little patience because it takes some time for the testing company to process and analyze your DNA. You’ll usually have to wait several weeks to get your results, but some companies offer a shorter waiting period than others.

Most DNA ancestry test kits have a six- to eight-week waiting period for results. However, some companies offer a four- to six-week waiting period. Consider how long you’re willing to wait, and look for a company that can deliver in a timely fashion.

DNA database size

When you’re choosing a DNA ancestry test kit, it’s important to take the size of the company’s DNA database into account. The larger the database, the more useful information the testing can provide about your ancestry and other genetic issues.

Each company has its own proprietary database, so it’s best to choose a company with as large a database as possible. For the most complete ancestry and genetic report, look for a company with at least two million samples in its database.

"DNA ancestry testing companies that allow you to enter your DNA results from another company charge a small fee to be included in their database. "

Ethnicity regions

If your primary interest in using a DNA/ancestry kit is to learn more about your ethnic origins, you’ll want a testing kit that provides the most comprehensive genetic ethnicity estimates. Most brands disclose what ethnic backgrounds their test can detect. Choose a kit that covers the greatest number of ethnic regions to be sure you learn as much about your origins as possible.

Family tree and relative matching

In addition to simply identifying your ethnic origins, many DNA ancestry test kits can actually help you build a family tree. The company may alert you when you share DNA with another user, which can reveal relatives that you may not know about. If they have a family tree feature, the service will start constructing one based on genetic matches through your profile on their website, so you can get an even better understanding of where you came from.

The relative-matching feature can also come in handy if you’re adopted and are hoping to connect with biological relatives.

"While most DNA testing kits can tell you if you are part Native American, they usually can’t specify a tribal affiliation."

Genetic health information

In addition to ethnic and ancestry information, some DNA test kits provide valuable information about genetic health issues. They can help you discover:

  • Possible health risks for genetic diseases, such as celiac disease, Parkinson’s disease, and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease

  • Wellness issues related to genetics, such as lactose intolerance and genetic weight, as well as steps you can take to keep yourself healthy

  • Carrier status for genetic conditions, such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis

  • DNA influence on certain traits, such as your facial features and sense of taste and smell

Keep in mind that you’ll usually pay more for a test kit that also provides health information.

Raw data upload/download

If you want the most complete picture of your ancestral and ethnic origins, it helps to provide your DNA results to as many companies that run databases as possible. Some companies allow you to download your test results and transfer them to other companies’ databases, which makes it easier. However, you should also make sure that the company allows you to upload DNA results from other companies to their database as well.

"DNA ancestry testing companies compare your DNA with other users to determine if you might share common ancestors, which is how they make relative matches."

Privacy policy

For many people, the idea of providing their DNA sample to testing companies can be unsettling due to privacy issues. Make sure that any test kit you choose has a clear privacy policy in place regarding who can see your test results, what results are shared with other users, and what happens to your data if the company is sold.

It’s very important to read the fine print when you sign up with a DNA/ancestry testing company to protect your results.

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Did you know?
Autosomal testing references more than 700,000 locations in your DNA, which is why it usually provides the best ancestry results.

DNA ancestry test kit prices

DNA ancestry test kits vary in price based on the amount of information that they provide, but you can typically expect to spend between $70 and $200.

  • Ancestry Information Only: For a DNA ancestry test kit that only provides results regarding your ancestral and ethnic origins, you’ll usually pay between $70 and $100.

  • Ancestry and Health Information: For a DNA ancestry test kit that provides results regarding your ancestry and ethnic origins as well as your genetic health information, you’ll usually pay between $100 and $200.


  • For both DNA ancestry kits that require saliva and those that require cheek swab samples, make sure that you don’t drink, eat, smoke, or chew gum for at least 30 minutes before giving your sample.

  • For a DNA ancestry test kit that requires a cheek swab, rub the tip of the swab firmly against the inside of your cheek. It shouldn’t hurt, but you want to collect as many cells as possible.

  • If you have trouble spitting enough saliva to meet the fill line in your collection tube for a DNA saliva sample, try rubbing your cheeks just behind your back teeth to stimulate saliva production.

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You only receive 50% of each of your parent’s DNA, so encourage other family members, such as your parents, grandparents, and siblings, to use a DNA ancestry testing kit too to get a more complete picture of your family tree.


Q. What type of DNA test works best for an ancestry test kit?
Autosomal DNA testing typically provides the best results for an ancestry test kit. It analyzes both the gender-defining X or Y chromosomes and the other 22 pairs of chromosomes in your DNA that aren’t related to your gender. That means it can provide ancestry results from both the paternal and maternal sides of your family. This test is available for both men and women to take.

Q. How accurate are the results from a DNA ancestry test kit?
The accuracy of the results depends on the type of DNA test that the kit uses, as well as the size of the company’s DNA database. Kits that use autosomal DNA testing tend to be most accurate because they analyze your entire genome, and the larger their DNA database is, the more accurate results they can provide. In fact, some DNA ancestry testing companies claim an accuracy of up to 98%. Check the companies that you’re considering to see if they provide an accuracy rate for comparison.

Q. Does a DNA ancestry kit tell you which side of the family your ethnicity results originate from?
It depends on what type of DNA testing the kit uses. Those that use autosomal DNA can’t distinguish between the maternal and paternal lines. However, kits that use Y chromosome DNA testing can trace your ethnicity results to your paternal line, while those that use mitochondrial DNA testing can trace your results to your maternal line.

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